10 things you need to know about 3D printing & food safety
It’s fun to 3D print things that you use in your everyday life. However, when it comes to printing kitchen utensils that will touch food, many wonder – is 3D printing food safe? With the chemicals and heat used to print and process 3D objects, there are valid health concerns. To clear up some questions around whether 3D printing is food safe, we’ve put together a list of the 5 most common concerns and 5 tips on minimizing these risks.
5 concerns with mixing food & 3D printing
1) Bacteria buildup in the design
This is a big concern as even the smoothest looking prints have small cracks and spaces where food can get stuck and bacteria grows. There is consensus from the 3D printing community on this point — one person even took pictures of prints under a microscope. Not so appetizing! If you’re planning to use it once and throw it away, no problem. For multiple uses, this can be an issue.
2) Chemicals in the filament
There is some debate about it, but ABS is generally considered unsafe to use with anything that will touch food. This is because ABS contains toxic chemicals which could leach into your food and eventually, your mouth.
Natural PLA is made from corn and is generally considered safe to use with food. However, some companies include other additives (for colour or other features) that may be unsafe to ingest. Some PLA filaments are designated food safe, but it’s important to check with the manufacturer.
3) Toxic particles released in the printing process
According to a study in 2013 by Illinois Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Lyon, France, desktop printers using ABS and PLA plastic are “high emitters” of ultra-fine particles (UFPs). These particles may exist on the surface of your print and inhalation or ingestion of these UFPs in excess can lead to adverse health effects.
4) It’s Not Dishwasher Safe
Ok, so if there is a build up of bacteria in your print, you can just wash it right? Not so fast… If you wash your creation in hot water or with the dishwasher, it may become deformed and warped with time. PLA is more sensitive to heat and is definitely not dishwasher safe (it may even ruin your dishwasher!).
5) Some brass nozzles contain lead
3D printer brass extruders may contain lead, and contamination can cause some nasty health problems. Exactly how much lead is in the brass and whether or not a significant amount of lead from the nozzle is transferred during the printing process is unclear. Some seem to think this is a huge problem and others say that the level of lead that would transfer into the final product is totally insignificant.
Ok, now I’m scared
It all sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? It’s important to keep in mind that these debates are still fairly contentious, and the research is still too early to have delivered concrete conclusions or a clear consensus. Plus, there are plenty of things you can do to minimize these concerns.
Let’s tackle them point by point!
5 tips to minimize risks of 3D printing kitchen tools
1) Use a food safe sealant to avoid bacteria build-up
Sealing a print with a food safe epoxy or sealant will cover the crevices that may collect bacteria. For PLA, 3D Printing Industry recommends Polyurethane which you will find at a home improvement store. There are alternative food grade epoxy coatings listed here. We also recommend not letting your object come in contact with raw meat or eggs which are more prone to harmful bacteria growth.
2) Buy a food-safe filament
Last December, KeyTech introduced the first Food Safe PLA, offering the same resistance to heat and and impact as ABS. It also is highly flexible, and doesn’t break easily. KeyTech founder Stefano Corinaldesi was so confident in his invention, he created a video showing that the filament will not break after it was exposed to the air for 60 days. Now there are a number of food safe filaments on the market, including German RepRap’s PP Plastic and FormFutura’s HDglass™ which is an ultra-transparent modified PETG.
How do you know if your filament is food safe? Your filament will come with an MSDS (material safety data sheet) that will tell you the chemical properties and should specify whether it is FDA approved or food safe. There is a list of approved additives that can come into contact with food here.
Also, if a company has gone through the process of being food-grade certified – it will probably say so on the packaging.
3) Use warm water with antibacterial soap to wash
Instead of using a dishwasher, wash with warm water and a mild anti-bacterial detergent immediately after use. This will reduce the risk that your print will melt, and will also remove any surface bacteria.
4) Use a food safe hot end/extruder
To avoid contamination from your extruder, you can purchase a stainless steel hot end which is considered safe to use with food. This might be a bit excessive if you only plan to use it to print out a cup or two. However, if you’re very concerned with the risks or will be printing a lot of kitchen gear, then it might just be worth it!
So, get to the punch already…is it food safe or not!?
We hate to leave you hanging with an “it depends” but here are some of our key conclusions:
3 Conclusions on how to print food safe
1) Food Safe vs. Dangerous:
It is very difficult to make 3D printing certified “food safe” but there is a difference between certified food safe and general food safety. Should you sell any gadgets that will come in contact with food? Maybe not. You may have to deal with the organization that oversees specific requirements of food safety in your country. However, will you get fatally ill from using a 3D printed glass or bowl once or twice, probably not.
2) Limit time in contact with food:
Joseph Larson , a 3D printing blogger contacted the FDA and found out that according to them, food safety really depends on what you are using the tool for. Things like knives and cookie cutters don’t come into contact with food or your mouth for very long and are safe (even without food grade filament). If you’re printing a coffee cup or a container which will contact food for longer periods of time, you may want to take extra precautions.
3) Choose your material wisely:
Choose the right material for what you are printing. Using PLA for your coffee cup is safer because the decomposed particles are naturally occurring. However, the plastic is too soft for your hot coffee and could melt in a dishwasher. In some ways, ABS is a stronger choice for your coffee cup, but it’s not certified food safe and has chemicals that could potentially be toxic to ingest. Talk about your catch-22s. Ultimately, the decision of which material to use is up to you and depends on what you will use it for.
We’d love to hear from you!
If anyone has any expertise or knowledge on food safety and 3D printing, feel free to share any information or thoughts in the comments below.
If you’re looking to try out your food grade filament by printing some kitchen wear, head over to Pinshape to find some designs!
Until next time, Pinshapers!
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